By ARUN PRATAP SINGH
DEHRADUN, 2 May: Hard-pressed for financial revenue, Uttarakhand Government has finally permitted liquor shops to open in the state from 4 May onwards. The liquor shops would however be required to maintain strict social distancing protocols of at least two yard distance between each customer while standing in queue for their turn to purchase liquor. The permission comes after the guidelines issued by Union Ministry of Home Affairs on 30 April permitting states to allow sale of liquor and tobacco products.
Interestingly, the fact remains however that though the state was strapped of any earning from excise from sale of liquor in the state during the lockdown, liquor was being sold illegally almost throughout the state on a very high premium. A significant number of those in habit of regular drinking were somehow managing to get their quota of liquor albeit at prices several times the MRP. And this could not have been possible without the connivance of excise officials as well as the police personnel. Sources in the excise department admitted that many of the liquor venders managed to open their shops and godowns and smuggle out liquor for illegal sale with the connivance of certain excise officers.
Though, this was happening from day one of the lockdown, liquor stock worth more than Rs 1 crore (167 boxes) was caught by joint police and excise teams in Roorkee on Thursday. It may be recalled that the liquor vends have to maintain a daily stock register as per the requirement and if the excise department is really, serious, it can easily detect how much stock of the liquor has been moved out without any mention on records. The big question however remains whether the excise department and the police would really be seriously undertaking this exercise or not. Sources claimed that the lockdown period proved to be golden period for some of the senior excise officials and the police personnel. They also claimed that given the fact that daily record of movement and sale of liquor has to be maintained by the liquor vendors, the venders are fully aware of the risks of moving out large scale of liquor stock without connivance of the excise and the police personnel. Hence, the connivance!
It may be further recalled that for past several days, the social media had gone viral with claims of large scale liquor smuggling and then a huge stock of liquor was confiscated in Roorkee. This forced the excise officials to conduct some raids and inspection of liquor shops and godowns on Friday. However it remains to be seen if the excise department is really serious and is able to trace exact amount of liquor smuggled out by the venders during the lockdown from the vends and godowns and book the venders for this! If the sources are to be believed, this is highly unlikely. Another question is whether there was any political support behind the liquor black-marketing and smuggling during the lockdown or not! In all probabilities, this would never be found out!
It may be recalled that the state governments across the country have been cash strapped to such an extent that they might find it difficult to even pay salaries on time as most of the revenue sources remained dried up for the government during the lockdown. Petroleum sales has also plummeted due to traffic restrictions while mining also could not be carried out at large scale. GST revenue on sale of non essential items is far higher than on food items and all the non essential items were not permitted to be sold during the lockdown. It would be a major challenge for the state to bring its economy back on track at the earliest!